Blackstar Shining

Last Thursday night at around 10:00 PM, I received an e-mail from iTunes telling me that my pre-order of David Bowie’s new Blackstar album was available for download.  Two of its seven songs had been previously released, and I had loved them both, so Marcia and I actually got in bed and listened to the whole album together in its entirely before going to sleep, something we’ve rarely done in our 28 years together.

The plaintive chorus that ends the album — “I can’t give everything away” — soared melodically, even as it haunted in terms of why the 69-year old star of stars was thinking in terms of bequests and transferals in the first place. We discussed those and Blackstar‘s other lyrics the next day, noting they were dark, imbued with strong images of mortality, alternatively raging against it or succumbing to its embrace. I noted that the album reminded of me Bowie’s classic Station to Station, a tight, seven-track disc with an epic opening title song, followed by oddly-framed, evocative pieces of no recognizable genre.

Katelin and I had then texted about the album over the weekend, which was pleasing since I often claim a particularly bright “Parenting Gold Star” in knowing that she has grown up to cite David Bowie as her favorite artist, loving many of the same albums that I do, with similar fervor. I was also pleased to realize that Marcia and I had seen Bowie’s keyboardist on the new album, Jason Lindner, in concert a couple of months ago as part of the Anat Cohen Quartet, where he was stellar. Lots of positive past and present connections, in other words, with lots of promise for the future.

So, like the rest of the world, I was utterly shocked and gutted to learn this morning that the great one had flown away, and that he’d been battling cancer throughout the entire creative process of this album.

Last night, the final piece of music I listened to (well, other than the Steven Universe theme song, which we watched right before bed) was “Lazarus” from Blackstar. The story of Lazarus is generally viewed as a positive one, of rebirth in this world, in anticipation of rebirth in the next. We were awed as a family when David Bowie emerged like that song’s subject from what seemed to be a creative crypt two years ago with the unexpected The Next Day, which I easily declared 2013’s Album of the Year. Many (me included) would have read the new song allegorically in terms of that recent creative rebirth — but now knowing what we know, it was something far more explicit, and the recently released “Lazarus” video now takes on a whole new meaning, on every level.

David Bowie was a brilliant artist, both musically and visually, and the final views we have of him (see also the “Blackstar” video) find him controlling and curating how he presented himself to his audiences with all of the care and creativity we’ve come to expect over the past half century. I don’t normally feel any real emotional sense of loss when people I don’t know personally pass on, but this one resonates deeply with me. David Bowie has been a part of my personal life and our family’s life in meaningful, inspirational ways, and what an awesome legacy he leaves behind for millions of other people who feel the same way.

We should all go with such grace and dignity and self-control. What a gift to see it done that way.

Brave Exhibitions

1. In New York, we could only buy wine and spirits at liquor stores. In Iowa, we can buy it pretty much anywhere: grocery stores, drug stores, convenience stores, wine stores, wherever. Quality varies widely, needless to say. We rank the wine shopping hierarchy in Des Moines as follows:

Ingersoll Wine & Spirits > Hy-Vee > Dahl’s > Wahlgreens > Quik Trip > Casey’s > Kum & Go

2. Heresy alert: Critics around the world are falling all over themselves to praise Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ new disc, Push the Sky Away, as a moody, atmospheric masterpiece. But me? I think it’s slow, boring, and proves just how important ex-member Mick Harvey was to the Bad Seeds.

3. My other biggest musical disappointment in 2013 is Frightened Rabbit’s Pedestrian Verse. I adored their last two albums, and their 2012 EP State Hospital boded well as a preview for the new disc, but it really fell flat for me upon arrival. I read one review that compared the new record to Coldplay. I wouldn’t argue with that assessment, though I consider it a terrible insult.

4. Grand Mal’s Binge/Purge is one of my favorite records from the time I spent in mid-1980s Washington, DC’s musical underground. You can nab a copy here. Don’t be put off by the heinous album cover, a poster of which used to adorn my bulletin board at the Naval Academy, much to our visitors’ horror.

5. Still the best children’s book ever: Jerome.

6. Still the most terrifying version of the tired Charles Dickens classic: Richard Williams’ A Christmas Carol (1971). See especially 5:58 and 16:40.

7. As a native South Carolinian, I am very good at cracking pecans by hand. There’s some brute force involved, but also some finesse, and it is deeply satisfying to end up with two perfect pecan halves in hand without any mechanical assistance. I bought some pecans at our indoor Winter Farmer’s Market a couple of months ago, and one afternoon was particularly pleased by the perfect pecan I extracted. I went to the living room to show Marcia and share my accomplishment, hand held out in front of me. Before I could say a word, she grabbed one of the pecan halves, popped it in her mouth, and walked away. Show Off FAIL.

8. How much money do state and federal governments spend on signs that are essentially universal, such as “No Littering” or “Bridge Freezes Before Road” or “Keep Right Except to Pass.” How about we save a ton of tax dollars and eliminate all of these and other stupid signs by just having acceptance of a driver’s license include a signed attestation the the recipient understands that all bridges freeze before all roads, that littering is a no-no, that the left lane is reserved for passing, etc.

9. This post cleared about half of my office whiteboard.